Particulate matter (PM) pollution consists of airborne particles, which are smaller than the width of human hair; it is produced by both natural and anthropogenic sources and activities. PM damages human health by harming the lungs, heart and blood vessels causing serious diseases that may be fatal. In 2013, air pollution was linked to an estimated 710k premature deaths in Africa with an associated economic cost of USD 215 billion (OECD).

As urbanization increases, the burden of air pollution also increases unless steps are taken to reduce per capita production of pollution.  The dominant urban air pollution sources in Africa include inefficient vehicles, cooking fuel, diesel backup generators, and open burning of waste. According to the WHO, air quality data from sub-Saharan Africa are scarce, even though the air pollutant concentrations rank third highest amongst regions of the world. 

Few studies have investigated air pollution in Africa and where measurements do exist their duration is typically short due to the high cost of standard instrumentation. A lack of data impedes health assessments, thereby hindering the development of policies which benefit health whilst encouraging economic growth. 

PM pollution causes degradations in visibility by scattering and absorbing light.  Hence visibility can be used as a proxy for PM.  Many developing countries do not have air monitoring networks whereas they do have visibility monitoring; global aviation demands it for the safe landing and take-off of aeroplanes. Therefore, wherever there is an airport there is potentially a ready-made PM monitoring station.

Project Aims - 

Derive accurate PM information from visibility measurements

Link public health to PM loading in Africa via visibility measurements

Air pollution in Cairo, Egypt causing visibility degradation (Photo courtesy of the World Bank (KY-EG002).


Link PM concentrations to measured visibility. The ability of individual particles to scatter and absorb radiation, and hence reduce visibility, is dependent on their size, shape, morphology and refractive index. Hence, robust physico-chemical relationships between PM characteristics and visibility are required. For initial calibration studies, we will focus on PM in Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa.

Estimate current and historic PM pollution in Africa. The calibration data collected and generated from the Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa part of the project will be used to generate data for the rest of Africa. This data will allow for changes in visibility/PM pollution to be linked to changes in population, economy (both of which are rapidly rising) and other socio-economic factors.

Evaluation of PM health effects. Standard dose activity relationships will be used as recommended by the WHO to understand the effects of PM upon African urban health.

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes. 

The student will be provided with full training on the instruments with which to analyse atmospheric composition and visibility.  The candidate may also attend modules from Atmospheric Science MSc courses at Birmingham. They will be trained in an interdisciplinary environment in Birmingham with colleagues whose interests span meteorology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry and air quality.  The student will benefit enormously from synergies between the studentship and the DFID funded project ‘A systems approach to air pollution (ASAP)in East Africa’, which is currently being led by Dr Pope in the cities of Nairobi, Kampala and Addis Ababa. 


Year 1: Literature survey and review paper.  Development of the air quality and visibility relationships.   Short UK field campaign (based in UK) to test methodologies.

Year 2: Extensive field campaign, based in an African partner country. Data analysis and interpretation.  Publication of initial field campaign papers.

Year 3: Data analysis and interpretation, especially public health outcomes. Larger papers detailing field campaigns and synthesis of results. Presentation of results at international conference e.g. AGU in San Francisco, USA. Thesis preparation and viva.


Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The student will have access to the ASAP East Africa team, which involves various academic, NGO and governmental stakeholders based in the UK and the Africa countries of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The successful applicant will spend time in one of the study countries allowing first-hand experience to be gained.

Further Details

For informal discussion of the project, please get in contact with Dr Francis Pope (f.pope@bham.ac.uk).